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A Treatise on Atonement, by Hosea Ballou

Hosea Ballou's 1805 work on Universalist theology, edited by Rev. Dan Harper.
Table of Contents.
Return to chapter 3.
Continue to chapter 5: Necessity of Atonement.



In our inquiries on this momentous subject, we shall:

First. Examine three doctrinal tenets on atonement; from which we shall beg leave to dissent, and give our reasons therefor.

Secondly. Show the necessity of atonement, and where satisfaction must be made.

Thirdly. Inquire into the personage and character of the Mediator, who makes the atonement, and his ability to perform the work.

Fourthly. Inquire of atonement in its nature.

4. Erroneous Theories of Atonement

Christian divines, in general, have agreed in supposing sin to be an infinite evil, being a violation of an infinite law, and, therefore, that the law required an infinite sacrifice; short of which no atonement could be made that the transgression of Adam brought the whole human race into the same situation of sin and misery, and subjected them all to the infinite penalty of an infinite law, which they had violated in their parent before they individually existed.

After the above agreement many different roads are taken; and divines of the greatest abilities, and of the first rank among the literati, have drained the last faculty of invention in plodding through the dark regions of metaphysics to bring up a Samuel to explain the solecism of satisfying an infinite dissatisfaction.

The plan of redemption, as held by many, may be reduced to the following compendium. God, from all eternity, foreseeing that man would sin, provided a Mediator for a certain part of his posterity, who should suffer the penalty of the law for them, and that those elect ones, chosen by God from the rest of mankind, will alone be benefited by the atonement; that in order that the sacrifice might be adequate to the crime for which the sinner was condemned to everlasting or endless suffering, God himself assumed a body of flesh and blood, such as the delinquent was constituted in, and suffered the penalty of the law by death, and arose from the dead. By this process, the demand of the law was completely answered, and the debt due to Divine Justice, by the elect, was fully and amply paid. But that this atonement does not affect those who were not elected as objects of mercy, but that they are left to suffer endlessly for what Adam did before they were born. It is true that they are a little cautious about saying that God himself absolutely died! But they say that Christ, who was crucified, was really God himself, which must, in effect, amount to the same thing. And in fact if the Infinite did not suffer death, the whole plan fails, for it is by an infinite sacrifice that they pretend to satisfy an infinite dissatisfaction.

Why the above ideas should ever have been imbibed by men of understanding and study, I can but scarcely satisfy myself; their absurdities are so glaring that it seems next to impossible that men of sobriety and sound judgment should ever imbibe them or avoid seeing them.


I have already sufficiently refuted the idea of an infinite sin, which opens to a plain path in which the mind may run, and run clear of all those perplexities which have served to confuse rather than enlighten mankind.

If sin be not infinite, the dissatisfaction occasioned by sin is not infinite, therefore an infinite sacrifice is not required. But, for the sake of illustration, we will for a moment admit that the doctrine of atonement stands on the ground over which we have just gone. I will state it as it is often stated by those who believe it, which is by the likeness of debt and credit. The sinner owed a debt to Divine Justice which he was unable to discharge; the Divine Being cannot, consistently with his honor, dispense with the pay, but says I must have my due; but as the debtor has not ability to pay the smallest fraction, Divine Wisdom lays a deep concerted mysterious plan for the debt to be discharged. And how was it? Why, for God to pay it himself!

My neighbor owes me a hundred pounds; time of payment comes, and I make a demand for my dues. Says my neighbor, my misfortunes have been such that I am not the possessor of the smallest fraction of property in the world; and as much as I owe you I am worse than nothing. I declare to him, positively, that I will not lose so much as a fraction of the interest, and leave him. A friend calls and asks me how I succeeded in obtaining my dues of my neighbor; I reply, my neighbor is not, nor will he ever be able to pay me any part of my demand. My friend says he is sorry that I should lose my debt. I answer, I shall not lose it. I have very fortunately, in my meditations on the subject, thought of a method by which I can avail myself of the whole to my full satisfaction; and I think it is a method which no person in the world, but myself, could have ever discovered. My friend is curious and impatient to know the mighty secret never before found out. The reader may guess his confusion on my telling him that as I have the sum already by me, I am now going to pay up the obligation before the interest is any larger! This has been called the Gospel plan, which contains the depths of infinite wisdom.

I should be please to see, what I have never seen, professors following such an example in obtaining what the poor widow, the fatherless, and the needy, owe them. But, says the advocate for the plan, a distinction should be made between the persons in the Godhead. It was the second person in the Godhead who paid this infinite debt to the first; therefore it is not altogether like a person paying his own demand. I say, in answer, if the first and second persons in the Godhead are not so essentially one as to make the debts due to one belong equally to the other, and payment also, they are not so essentially one as to be represented by two distinct persons related only by Adam, who are in company in merchandise.

But for the sake of carrying the argument still further, I will admit this variety of persons in an infinite, indivisible being! And also the plan of atonement on the principle of the second person's paying the demand to the first. And here it will be necessary to introduce the third person in the Godhead, as it is contended that the third person makes known to the debtor what the creditor determines concerning him. Then the plan of the doctrine may be represented by the following similitude:

A owes B the sum of one thousand pounds; the time of payment comes, demand is made. A is not worth a farthing, neither is it in his power to raise a fraction of the money. B immediately commences a process against A, of which C, a friend of A's, being informed, goes to B, asks him how large a demand he holds against A. B informs him, a thousand pounds and interest. And A is worth nothing? asks C. Nothing, answers B. Would you make a deduction of twenty-five per cent. if you could have the money down? asks C. Not the least deduction, answers B. Well, says C, if will have no mercy on the poor and distressed, I will have the pleasure of relieving the debtor alone; counts out the money in full, and receives the obligation of bestow on his friend A. B sends a servant to immediately inform A that he has concluded to forgive him the debt. A is transported at the news, flies to tell his wife and children the tidings of mercy, and all join in praising such heavenly benevolence. C comes in, the same moment, with the obligation in his hand, modestly gives it to A, desiring him to accept it as a token of undissembled friendship. A is confounded, asks C how he came by the obligation. C informs him that he paid every farthing of the money for it, the creditor would not make the least deduction. I leave the reader to judge whether the creditor showed any mercy to the debtor, and whether B's pretensions of favoring A do not wear the appearance of hypocrisy.

It is contended by those who hold to this debt and the payment of it, that the salvation of the sinner is by being forgiven; yet they contend that the debt was paid. But how I can forgive a man a debt, and oblige him to pay it, is more that I can see.


Again, admitting the system true, I wish to inquire into the propriety of an innocent person's suffering for one who is guilty. It is Scripture, reason, and good law never to condemn the innocent in order to exculpate the delinquent. Supposing a foreign court sends a person who is old in conspiracies and blood, to America, to lay a deep concerted plan to murder the President of the Union, and a number of the first officers in the Federal government, for purposes mischievous to our political existence; and he should so far succeed as to engage a number in this wicked design, and finally makes the attempt: his plans are discovered by government and detected, but not until numbers have fallen a sacrifice to his mischievous endeavors. The leader of these seditious murderers is taken and condemned to be executed; and the voice of every friend of justice and equity is against the criminal.

But what would be the consternation of the good people of the United States on being informed that the good president of the Union, the man whom the people delighted to honor, was executed in the room of this seditious person, and the wicked murderer set at liberty? Is it possible to conceive that there is a single person in the world who would call this a just execution? If it be said that the president freely offered himself in the room of the criminal, it alters not the case in the eye of justice. If an innocent man can justly be put to death because he consents to it willingly, a guilty one may be acquitted because he prefers it.

But it is further argued that the authority had power to raise the president from the dead, which done, renders the work just and glorious. I say, in answer, that if the authority had this power, it might as well have executed the real criminal, and raised him from the dead, as to perform this work on one who was not guilty. What is the most shocking of anything in this system of atonement, is the partiality represented in the Almighty; for admitting the plan rational, as it respects those circumstances in which I have shown its absurdity, what can we find in Scripture or reason that justifies such infinite partiality in our Creator? or what can, in the least, serve as evidence to prove him possessed of it? have we not reason to believe our Creator possessed of as much goodness as he has communicated to us? Can we rationally believe that he is wanting in those principles of goodness which he has placed in our understanding? When he saw the whole progeny of Adam in the same situation of sin, no one more guilty than another, why should be propose a plan of mercy for some few of them and disregard the rest?

The sacred oracle declares God to be no respecter of persons; if this be true he is not a partial being. Jesus taught the character of God to his disciples by turning their attention to nature, observing the equal distribution of rain and sunshine, on the evil and the good, on the just and on the unjust. Supposing Joseph had dealt out bread plentifully to two of his brethren in Egypt, and had starved the rest to death, would it have looked like impartiality? It is argued that none of them deserved a crumb from Joseph, whom they had sold; and if he pleased to give to one and not to the other, he had a right so to do. Then, I say, he had a right to be partial.

I am travelling through a large and extensive wood, and many miles from any inhabitant; I find ten persons who are lost; they have been out of provisions from several days; and having fatigued themselves in wandering from hill to hill, from stream to stream, striving, to the utmost of their minds, bid they wives and children a long farewell, they are waiting for hunger to do its last work! The moment I discover myself to them, with large supplies of wholesome and rich provisions, every eye glistens with unexpected joy; the current of life starts afresh in their veins, and they all advance to meet me on their enfeebled hands and knees, with eagerness to receive the staff of life! I hasten to improve the opportunity of showing my sovereign and goodness; I feed five of them to the full, the other five I neglect. They beg for the smallest crust, which I do not want, but to no effect. Those whom I feed solicit me, every mouthful they eat, to bestow some on their fellow-sufferers, but I refuse. I tell them, however, not to construe my conduct into partiality, but to learn my power and sovereignty by it. The five whom I have fed I assist out of the wood, and leave the rest to their wants. My conduct in the above affair appears so much blacker than my paper is white, I choose rather to leave the reader to make his comments than to write my own.


I inquire still further, did the Almighty know, before he made man, that he would become a sinner? Did he know that he would deserve an endless punishment? If the answer be in the negative, it supposed God to be wanting in knowledge, and that he created beings at an infinite risk, as he did not know what would be the consequences. If the question be answered in the positive, it proves that an infinite cruelty existed in God; for unless that was the case he would never have created beings who he knew would be infinitely the losers by their existence.

Those who believe in the system which I am examining, believe in the existence of the devil, whose existence I have refuted in this work. I am willing, however, for the sake of the argument, to admit the existence of their God and devil likewise. But I wish to inquire, which of them is, in reality, the worst being. God, when he created mankind, perfectly knew that some of them would suffer endless torment for their sins; he must, therefore, have intended them for that purpose; and his purpose could not be contrary to his knowledge. The matter then stands thus, God created millions of beings for endless misery, which they could not escape; the devil is desirous of having them miserable, and does all in his power to effect it. Now, reader, judge between these two beings. Had this devil been consulted by the Almighty when he laid the plan of man's final destiny, I cannot conceive him capable of inventing one more eligible to his infernal disposition than this which I am now disputing.

As reason will not consent to the plan of God as described in the foregoing scheme, I will show that Scriptures equally oppose it. It is granted that Jesus Christ died for mankind, as the Scriptures declare; but not in the way in which thousands have believed. But supposing he died instead of the sinner, in the way which I dispute, I still wish to prove that he died for the whole of Adam's posterity as much as he did not any. If Isaiah did not believe that that would be the case, I cannot reconcile his words to his opinion, which I find in chap. liii. 5-6:

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray: We have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

St. Paul must have been of this opinion when he wrote to Timothy, or his words are not expressive of his belief; see 1 Tim. ii. 5-6:

For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.

1st General Epistle of John ii. 1-2:

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not, and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also the sins of the whole world.

Heb. ii. 9:

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, now crowned with glory and honor; that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.

The above Scriptures, with their connections and corresponding passages, as fully prove that Christ dies for all men, as any one thing can be proved from the Bible. Now, as there is not, in all the Scripture, a single hint to the reverse of these passages which I have introduced, it appears strange and unaccountable to me that any person who professes to believe the testimony of the Bible should ever have entertained the idea that what these passages say is false, and that which is not said, in contradiction to what is, is true!


Look, ye readers, and submit to astonishment at what has been believed in, as divine truth. An almighty, infinitely wise and good being creates an innumerable multitude of rational intelligences; they rebel against him, and raise an infinite dissatisfaction in his mind toward them; this infinite dissatisfaction gets removed toward part of the offenders by the sacrifice of innocence! With the rest, God is still displeased; yet he is almighty and infinitely wise and employs his power and wisdom to make the works of his own hand as miserable as their natures will bear, for being just such creatures as he knew they would be, before he made them.

But it is argued that God's knowing what sort of creatures men would be did not influence them in the smallest degree to be what they are. Let this argument be granted. But did not God know what would influence men to be what they are? Answer, yes. Was it in his power to remove this influential cause? If it were, why did he not do it, if it were like to displease him? If it were not in his power to prevent the mischief, we wish to know whether it were in the creature's power to prevent it? If it were not in the power of either of them to prevent the operation of things in the way in which they have, and do, take place, why is God's anger so warm against his poor impotent offspring?

It seems an unhappy circumstance, for both Creator and creature. The Creator is not satisfied with his creatures; his creatures find themselves introduced into an existence infinitely worse than none. I am born into this world of sorrow and trouble; the first vibration of sense is want; I endeavor to supply my wants, and to maintain my existence, which my Maker has bestowed upon me; but as soon as I come to years of understanding, I am told of an infinite debt which stands against me, which I owed thousands of years before I was born; and that my Maker is so angry with me, and has been ever since the debt was due, that he has prepared a furnace of endless flames to torment me in, according to the due requirements of justice!

My father gives me his farm, and puts me in possession of it; I am pleased, and prize it very highly. In consequence of my possession, I paint to myself many pleasing prospects; but, to my mortification, a person comes and presents me with a mortgage of my farm for five times its value, the mortgage running so as to hold the possessor to clear it; I will leave the reader to say, whether my father was kind or unkind. Yet, the circumstance into which the Almighty has introduced millions of his creatures, is infinitely worse according to the doctrine which we are examining.

It is argued, with much assurance, that God has a just right to do with his creatures as he pleases, because he has it in his power so to do; and that he never does any thing, because it is right; but what he does, is right, because he does it. If the above statement be just, moral holiness consists in the power of action, and not in the disposition that designs the action. If so, my argument in favor of sin's existing only in the design of the actor, and not in the action, is groundless; and we are driven to say that unholiness, or sin, is the want of power to perform an action; and holiness consists in having the power to do it. One man designs to murder another for his money, he makes the attempt, and fails; his sin consisted in not having power to execute his design; but in the design there is no evil. On the other hand, he makes the attempt, and succeeds; here is no evil at all, because he had power to do it. On this principle, every thing that can be done, is moral holiness; and every thing that cannot be done, is sin, or moral evil.

Here we are presented with a picture the most to be dreaded of anything which the imagination of man is capable of inventing. Power moving on in front, exhibiting tyrannic majesty in every action; and meagre justice in the rear, obsequiously pronouncing aft right! If these things be so, our senses are nothing but mediums of deception; and all our experience has served us no other purpose than to make us more ignorant. Who is there in the world, possessing common sense, that does not dread and revolt from power, in every instance, where they see it connected with an evil disposition? Are we right in wishing our enemies weak? We are, and that because their strength being directed by their wicked designs, gives us fear.

But, for the sake of the argument still further, let it be granted that, God being supreme, had a right to do because he had the power. And he creates millions of beings, whom he intends for endless torments, and puts his whole design into execution; and this is called supreme goodness. Now we wish to know how a supreme evil could be described? All will grant, that evil is in opposition to good; then an opposite description would be just. To create, with an intention to make eternally happy, and to put that design into execution, would be supreme evil! But, according to the doctrine which I am examining, God contains these two characters in himself, having created some for one purpose, and some for the other. It will be of no advantage to the reader to have the absurdity of the above proposition any more exposed, than enough to have it rejected. I never heard or read any argument to prove the propriety of the disputed proposition. It is a begged proposition, and stands without the least shadow of evidence from Scripture or reason; but it requires no great ingenuity to see what the chimera was invented for; without it, the whole plan and scheme of atonement, which I am now examining, would fall for want of foundation.


There are some of Paul's writings to the Romans, which have been used by divines to prove the partial plan of salvation true, of which, we think it will be proper to take notice in this place. Romans ix. 21-22, has been made great use of in order to prove that God made some men vessels of eternal dishonor, and other vessels of eternal glory. The words read as follows:

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.

Again, Rom. xi. 7-10:

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh; for but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear) unto this day. And David saith, let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them; let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.

On this passage, and others like it, is built the doctrine of limited salvation, by Jesus Christ, according to the foreknowledge and predestination of the Almighty. It is argued that those who are here called the elect are those for whom Christ died, and those alone who will finally obtain salvation by him. But why any person should make such a mistake in reading this chapter I am at a loss. The salvation of the elect is not argued in this chapter; but the certainty of the salvation of those who were blinded, and the propriety of believing it, occupies the greatest part of it. Observe the words next to those we have quoted above, verse 11-12:

I say then, have they stumbled, that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them unto jealousy. Now, if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them, the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness?

Again, verse 15:

For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

Again, in his argument to the Romans, he endeavors to show them, by the similitude of the branches of olive trees, that they ought to believe that those blinded ones, though broken off through unbelief, would be grafted in again. See verse 24:
For, if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature, into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

The apostle seems desirous to instruct the Roman church, and argues the point fervently; see verses 25-26:

For I would not brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, (lest ye should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

Compare the last verse which I have quoted, with Levit. xxvi. 44-45:

And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt, in the sight of the heathen that I might be their God: I am the Lord.

And Isaiah xiv. 25:

In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

Many like passages might be quoted from various parts of the scripture; but, perhaps, the above will suffice for this particular purpose. More, of the like nature, will be noticed in the sequel of this work.

The scriptures have been as much violated, to maintain the doctrine which we are examining as good reason is by supposing God to be so infinitely partial, as he must be, in the eye of reason, in order to be what the doctrine represents him.


I shall now invite the attention of the reader to another system of atonement, which was undoubtedly formed with a view to shun the absurdities in the former, and to get rid of some of the consequences that were naturally deducible from that idea of the sufferings of Christ. This system supposes that the atonement by Christ was not intended for the salvation of any part of the human race; that its main end and sole object was the glory of the Supreme Being as manifested in his holy and righteous law. In support of this plan, it is argued that it is inconsistent for infinite wisdom and goodness to prefer an inferior object to a superior one; that all creation, when compared with the Creator, sinks into nothing, bearing no possible proportion to the infinite Jehovah; of course, that God always has his own glory in view, as his supreme object, in all he does.

This plan agrees with the former in supposing sin to be of infinite magnitude, and deserving of endless punishment; that, as the law of God is infinite, like himself, finite man is infinitely to blame for not fulfilling all its requirements; and that the penalty of the law is endless misery, which misery Christ sustained; not with a view of acquitting the sinner, nor in room and stead of the transgressor, as is supposed in the other plan; but for the honor of divine justice, and the glory of his Father. It is further argued that by Christ's suffering the penalty of the law, justice is as fully satisfied as if all mankind had been made miserable for an eternity. And this being the case it is now just and right for God to acquit as many of the sinful race of Adam as is consistent with his grand object, which is himself; yet by no means rendering it unjust for God to punish, to all eternity, as many as is necessary in order for the satisfying of the same grand object.

I first inquire into the propriety of the argument on which this plan of atonement seems to be founded; which is that God always acts for his own infinite and incomprehensible glory; never stooping so low as to act with an intention for the good of his creatures.

First. I ask is God as infinitely glorious as he can be, or not? If it be answered that he is; then if his object in all he does is to augment his own glory, he never has, nor will he ever accomplish his intention. If it be argued that it is not to augment his own glory, but to secure it and maintain it in its proper splendor, it argues it to be of a perishable nature, and that it would decay were it not for the continual vigilance of the Almighty in preserving it. If it be argued that neither of these objects is right, but that it is the manifestation of his glory to intelligent beings, which is the grand design or object of God in all his acts without any reference to the effect which this manifestation has on those to whom it is made, I say the object has now dwindled into annihilation; there is not the smallest imaginable atom of it left. To suppose that any rational being can wish, or desire, to accomplish any piece of labor, without having any reference to the consequences, is too glaringly absurd, to need refutation.

Now the nature of the proposition, which I am examining confines the motive of Deity within himself, and himself from his creation. In order, therefore, to look at the Almighty as he is by this doctrine represented, we must look at him as destitute of a creation, and view him abstractly from all his creatures. But may I ask, what title to give that being of whom we speak? The name Jehovah truly has reference to his self-existence, and to his character as the giver of existence also. The name God implies a being who is worshipped. Lord signifies a possessor. "I am that I am" has reference to an unchangeable being, but does not determine a being of goodness.

I ask again, what do we know of an Almighty, only by his works? If his existence can ever be determined by any other means, I am ignorant of the way. What do we know but by our senses? Have we any sense of good or evil that does not concern created beings? We may say, if we please, that God acts for his own essential good abstractly from his creation; but what do we mean by it? An action for the good of any being, presupposes that being in want; and if in want, then not infinitely happy. If God be not infinitely happy, he never can be. I inquire further, by what data can we determine that God is a good being? Can we determine it by any other criterion than by the effects of what he does, as it concerns his creatures? The truth undoubtedly is, that just as far as we can look into creation, providence, and redemption, and see the harmony and beauty of them, and see that all were calculated for the good of created intelligences, whom these things concern, we are satisfied that he who conducts the whole is a good being. And if we say he is good, without this understanding, we acknowledge a proposition, for which we are unable to offer the smallest reason.

Again, is it not wrong to make a separation where the Almighty does not? Is he not perfectly joined to his creation? Do we not live, move, and have our being in God? Were we not created of his fulness? Had Deity anything of which to create beings but his own eternal nature? I know it has been said that God created all things out of nothing, etc.; but such an idea never will be imbibed by me until I can form, in imagination at least, a notion of how much nothing it takes to make the least imaginable something. If all things were created of the infinite Jehovah, as great a part of his creation as we take from him, so great a proportion we take from his fulness. God never could be more than infinite in his fulness; then, to take the smallest creature from him, which he created of that infinite fulness, you have left something less than infinity. Now, if it be argued that God acts for the good of himself, considering his creatures to belong to his fulness, I am perfectly agreed; but to say that the Almighty has, or ever could have a motive, in action, that did not embrace every consequence that could arise from what he did, would be limiting his omnisciency; or to say that he did not intend good to all whom his acts concern; would be limiting his goodness and would be an impeachment on his justice.

I have before, in this work, contended that all the attributes, which we ascribe to God, we call good, on account of the advantages which we derive from such principles. We are told of a God who acts for his own benefit abstractly from his creation; and that in millions of cases he finds it most for his glory to make his rational, hoping, wanting creatures endlessly miserable; and this is called goodness. We are likewise told of a devil who acts for his own gratification, and who delights in making God's creatures miserable; and this is called badness. But, for my part, according to such statements, as the difference between goodness and badness is so small I can hardly distinguish it. It is profane, in my opinion, to attribute a disposition to the Almighty which we can justly condemn in ourselves. A man who should act from such a selfish principle as is attributed to God, would render himself wholly unworthy of the protection of common law. And shall we thus represent our kind and merciful Father, from whom ten thousand streams of goodness continually flow to his wanting and needy creatures? No; let every vibration of sense within us acknowledge his bountiful hand, which is never closed.


I have already labored in this work to show that sin is finite, and not committed against an infinite law. I shall, however, now call into examination a subject something like it, which is that of penalty; as it is contended that the penalty of God's law is endless punishment, etc.

I first inquire, why does a legislature affix penalties to laws which it makes? Answer, the first reason is, the strength and security of government. Second: That the punishment may serve to reclaim the delinquent. Third: That the punishment of a criminal may serve to deter others from the commission of like crimes. Fourth: In many cases, to keep the delinquent, by confinement or death, from doing any more mischief.

Now let us look into the government of an Almighty Being, and see how the matter of penalty will operate there. Observe the penalty is endless misery. I ask, is this necessary to secure the government of an Almighty Being? Would his government be in danger if this penalty were not enacted to his law? Supposing a legislature of men had the power in their hands of causing all the community on whom its laws were binding to love their laws in every requirement, and with vigilance to attend to the faithful discharge of their duties in all things, would it be necessary for them to enact penalties to their laws? Allowing the legislature to have such powers, who in the world would say it is not best to exercise it; that it is better to have penal laws, and let the people have their wicked, obdurate hearts, so that now and then we may have a poor criminal to execute? I can hardly believe that any will contend that penalty is necessary in the law of God in order to secure his government. Is there any scruple respecting God's power to turn the hearts of his creatures as he pleases? If there be not, then there is no need of a penalty in his law, in order for the security of his government.

Second. Is this penalty necessary, in order to reclaim the delinquent? Answer, that is impossible. The penalty being endless punishment, it can have no object in reclaiming the punished. The execution of such a penalty on any of God's creatures would prove the contractedness of his goodness, as no possible good could be communicated to a victim of such punishment. Divine truths says, God is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. To say God is good to a creature of his whom he irrevocably dooms to endless torments, is a violation of our senses; and no person, in a moment of sobriety, will believe it. It is then evident, that such a penalty would not be necessary to reclaim the sinner.

Third. Is it necessary to inflict such a penalty on the transgressor, in order to deter others from the commission of sin? Answer, no; for, according to the doctrine which I am examining, the first transgression committed involved the whole human race in the delinquency; and an execution of such a penalty would be the endless misery of the whole family of man; there would not have been one left to be deterred from sinning, or even to tell the news!

Fourth. Is such a penalty necessary in order to keep the sinner from sinning any more? So far from that, this penalty would fix the delinquents in a situation in which they could do nothing but sin, to an endless eternity. No moral being can be miserable as suffering conscious guilt, without sin; therefore, in order for endless misery to be inflicted, endless transgression is necessary.


Look, kind reader, and see what an absurdity lies here. Because a being has sinned once, the law which he violated requires that he should continue in transgression! Well, he complies; will the law justify him? But, says the reader, I do not understand you. Why, the matter is plain; if a moral being cannot be miserable without sin, he must continue in sin in order to be miserable. Then if God's law requires endless misery, it requires endless transgression! But, it is argued, that a law cannot exist without a penalty. This undoubtedly is an error. The largest signification of the word law is governing power. See Rom. vii. 23:

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity unto the law of sin which is in my members.

This law of sin in the members, which brings the man into captivity, is undoubtedly the power of the flesh, which lusteth against the spirit, that we cannot do the things we would. Now, I ask, is there any penalty to this law? Does this law administer any condemnation to those who do not obey it? Most surely it does not. Then pass to the eighth chapter and third verse:

For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

This law is undoubtedly the governing power of the new man, which overcomes the carnal mind, and delivers the soul from the bondage of sin. I ask, again, is there any penalty to this law? Is there a dispensation of condemnation administered by this law of life? Truth says, the wages of sin is death. Does this death flow from the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus? Surely not. "To be carnally minded is death." (Rom. viii. 6) If carnal mindedness be that death, which is the wages of sin, surely it does not flow from the spirit of life. "To be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Rom. viii. 6)

God's moral law is like himself, love: "God is love, and he who loveth, dwelleth in God, and God in him." (1 John iv. 16) *

It requires all moral beings to love God and each other; and the reason why it commands this is, -- it is love itself. True, that soul is miserable that does not love God; and the reasons are, love is the life and happiness of the soul, and hatred is its death and misery.


Although I think I have given unanswerable reasons why I do not admit such a penalty as we have examined, I will for the sake of the argument still further allow it, and inquire into Christ's suffering it.

To say that Christ has suffered such a penalty is a contradiction in terms, because endless duration has not yet expired. To say that this penalty ever will be suffered by Christ, or any other being, is another contradiction in words; for an endless duration will never expire. Then to say that such a penalty has been, or ever will be, suffered, is erroneous.

If it be argued that Christ was an infinite person, and, therefore, could suffer an endless punishment in a few moments; we answer, it is not shunning the contradiction. If the position be moved, and the argument is that he, being infinite, could suffer as much in a few moments as all mankind would to an endless duration; I ask, are there more infinite beings than one? All answer, no. I ask again, is it possible for that infinite being to suffer? Even from my opponent, the answer will be that an infinite being did not suffer; but that it was the finite nature which suffered, and was raised from the dead, by the infinite; that it was the human nature which was made a sin offering; and that the divine nature gave victory to the human, by raising it into an immortal life. Well then, the sufferings were finite, and could by no means answer the requirements of an infinite penalty.

The particular difference, between this plan and the former is in the intentions of the sufferings of Christ. The former supposes that Christ suffered in room and stead of the sinner, so as to acquit all those from condemnation for whom he died: -- This argues, that the intention of the sufferings of Christ was not the salvation of sinners; but, as we have before observed, the glory of the Supreme Being; but that by the sufferings of Christ the law is perfectly magnified, and made honorable; and that it is just for God to acquit as many of the sinful race of Adam as is consistent with his glory; but does not render it unjust for him to punish, endlessly, as many as is necessary for the same grand object.

Now, admitting the penalty of the law to be endless, and that Christ suffered it in full, the law cannot now require the destruction of the offender; how then can we reasonably argue, that it is for the glory of God to punish, when justice does not require it? If justice do require it now of any, it does of all. If it be argued that divine justice does not require the endless happiness or misery of man, we say it is not a law which concerns mankind; and if we say God's will, in the misery of mankind, extends farther than the requirements of his justice, it is setting the Almighty against himself. Again, admitting such provisions to be made, as render it consistent with justice, that all sinners should be emancipated from death and misery, does eternal love and mercy require less?

Supposing five hundred Americans are in slavery at Algiers. Our Consul demands the price of their redemption, per man; he is answered, the price of one is the price of the whole; and the price of the whole is the price of one; the sum is five hundred dollars. This, the Dey says, is not a consideration for the slaves, but to show America, or the United states, his power, and the dignity of his government. Our consul obtains the money and pays it. Now, reader, do you think he would confine the benefits of this ransom-money to a small part of those unfortunate Americans; and out of five hundred, send but fifty home to their wives, children, country and friends; and tell the remaining four hundred and fifty that the money was his own, and he had a right to extend, or not extend the benefits of it, as he pleased; and that it was his pleasure that they should all wear out a miserable life in slavery, where they might dream of liberty but never enjoy it? The smallest degree of humanity would argue better things.

We have now examined the foundation of this plan of atonement, and it has removed out of our sight; we have sought carefully after the penalty of the law, and cannot find it; we have sought for the satisfaction of such penal requirements, admitting they did exist, and find them not; we have admitted, for the sake of the query, that such satisfaction did take place, and we have sought for the consequences which are argued, and find them inconsistent with such promises.

Taking my leave of this plan of atonement, I shall introduce a third one; from which I shall also dissent, and give my reasons for so doing. The plan agrees with the former in respect to the law, its penalty and of the personage of him who makes the atonement; but differs, in respect to the intentions of God, in the atonement.
As far as the first transgression concerned mankind, it is believed that the atonement by Christ is fully efficacious; and that no man will, or can be, miserable forever on account of what is called original sin. And that, by virtue of the sufferings of Christ, Adam and all his posterity were immediately placed in a state of trial, or probation, after the fall; such as Adam was in before, but with this difference, viz., man now knows good and evil, and is possessed of strong appetites to sin; but has also a portion of the divine Spirit, which is given to every man for his profit, to assist him in opposing those appetites and subduing them.

Those who believe in this plan believe that it was in the power of Adam, as a moral agent, to have stood in a state of holiness and innocency; and that it is now in the power of every man, as a moral agent, to obtain the paradise which Adam lost. They do not admit that Christ died for our actual transgressions, after we come to years of discretion; but of these we must repent, and beg for mercy, and God will forgive, on our humble and sincere application. The sum of this plan of atonement made salvation possible unto all men but certain unto none. It argues that it is the will of God that all men should be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth; that all should repent of their sins, and receive the Redeemer on the reasonable terms upon which he is offered to us.

Those who believe in this plan believe it possible for men to neglect those privileges, slight those merciful offers, and turn a deaf ear to all the warnings of the Spirit, until the day of their probation is ended; whereby all that the Saviour has done is made of no effect unto them. And that thousands will be thus neglectful and be miserable as long as God exists, not, however, for the sin which Adam committed, but for their own personal transgressions.

Before I put the foregoing system of atonement under examination, I will take notice of the character of the Mediator, as believed in by all those who hold to the several systems of which we have taken notice; as I have not examined that particular in my inquiries on the other systems preceding the one under consideration. They all contend that the Mediator is really God; that the Godhead consists of three distinct persons, viz., Father, Son and Holy Ghost; that these distinct persons are equal in power and glory, and eternally and essentially one.

The reader will observe my usual mode of reasoning, which is to admit, as truth, what I wish to oppose; and to oppose it with the consequence which necessarily follows. For the sake of argument, then, I admit the foregoing statement concerning Christ to be just; and then we contend, that if he be the Son of God, he is the son of himself, and is his own father; that he is no more the Son of God, than God is his son!

To say of two persons, exactly of the same age, that one of them is a real son of the other, is to confound good sense. If Jesus Christ were really God, it must be argued that God really died! Again, if the Godhead consists of three distinct persons, and each of those persons be infinite, the whole Godhead amounts to the amazing sum of infinity, multiplied by three! If it is said that neither of these three persons alone is infinite, we say the three together, with the addition of a million more such, would not make an infinite being. But supposing we get over all those absurdities, and suppose that these three distinct persons formed the grand council in heaven, on the salvation of man, after the first transgression.

In this council, and on so momentous an occasion, the first person addresses the other two, saying: The colony which we have just planted on our new-made earth has rebelled; and you know the penalty, which is endless misery, must be immediately executed on the two delinquents, unless a dispensation can be devised more favorable to the offenders, and equally satisfactory to justice. As the attribute of justice spake in the first person, that of mercy speaks in the second, and proposes a pardon. Justice opposes, and contends that his honor depends on the penalty's being put in execution. Mercy again replies, the second person in the Godhead shall suffer the penalty due to sin, and justice shall grant man a second probation in which he may secure the life, which he, by rebellion, lost. That reasonable conditions should be proposed, and the third person should make them known to man, and give him proper directions how to fulfil them; and if man faithfully attend to these conditions, he secures his happiness; if not, mercy makes no more request in favor of the offender. To this all agree; and it is registered accordingly.

It seems according to this plan that man utterly failed, on the first trial, but now has the second opportunity. I would ask, is there any more certainty of his succeeding now, than there was before? Is it certain, according to this plan, that any of Adam's posterity will obtain salvation? Is it not in the power of all men to neglect those conditions? If it be not, it destroys the nature of conditions, and of probation; if it be, then it is entirely uncertain, whether an individual soul will ever be saved by the Gospel plan.

I have before shown it erroneous to suppose that any finite being could suffer an infinite punishment, in any period of time; and I think it is also granted that an infinite being cannot suffer. But admitting the system of atonement to stand on the ground contended for, it was a matter of utter uncertainty whether it would, in any instance, prove efficacious as it respected the salvation of man.

A rich parent gives a large portion to his son, accompanied with good advice; the son turns prodigal, spends all, and gets into prison for debt. The father still loves the son, pays his debts, lets him out of prison, sets him at liberty, and gives him a thousand pounds more, which is all he ever can give him, and tells him to be more prudent. The prodigal, no sooner than he finds himself thus liberated, and in possession of a handsome property, goes into the same error, which brought him to ruin before, and finally meets the same consequences. The father has no more to give, and the son becomes a vagabond. We ask, did the parent act the part of wisdom, any more than the son did? If he had acted wisely, would he not have said to him: Son, I gave you much at the first; I gave you good advice; I told you, that industry and prudence alone would secure you from want; I told you, though your property were large, unless you put your money to interest, or into trade, it must dwindle; that if you threw away your time in vain and foolish prodigality, the end would be what you have already experienced? And although I hoped better things of you than a total neglect of my admonitions, yet so I feared; and, for your good, have reserved one thousand pounds of what I intended to give you, which, had you been economical, I should by this time have committed to your care. But as you have conducted so foolishly, I must, for your benefit, keep the remainder of your portion, until you prove yourself a convert from prodigality to economy.

If the Almighty were ignorant, at first, when he put man in possession of privileges which he afterwards abused, it astonishes me that he should risk the last favor which he had to bestow on principles which he had just seen fail. It will undoubtedly be acknowledged by all, that Jehovah knew, as perfectly before transgression as afterward, what man would do, and how he would dispose of the advantages which he had bestowed on him. Then, I ask, if God knew how man would abuse those privileges, and knew he would be eternally miserable in consequence, was it an act of kindness in God to grant man such privileges? I ask again, was it possible for that to fail which the Almighty perfectly knew would take place? The answer will be, no. Then, when we have consolidated the whole down to its real self, all the privilege which God gave to those whom he knew would render themselves objects of his displeasure was a privilege of incurring to themselves endless misery; I say more, he insured it to them himself by putting that into their hands, by which he knew it would be effected.

I give my child a loaded pistol, which I tell him to discharge at a serpent on his way where I have ordered him. I know perfectly well when I give him the pistol that he will carelessly blow his own brains out with its contents, and the serpent will go unhurt; the child's end happens, accordingly. I leave the reader to judge, whether I am the murderer of my child; my conscience would inform me.

The Mediator suffered the penalty of the law to reinstate man in a state of probation; God made a revelation to mankind for their instruction; he inspired the ancient prophets to speak of the things of his kingdom; sent his holy Spirit into the world to lead and guide man into all truth; and all this is done from the pure benevolence of God towards a sinful world, for its everlasting welfare, but all upon uncertainties! After all, man has it in his power to frustrate the whole plan of grace, and render it abortive!

On the other hand, it was possible for every son and daughter of Adam to accept of Christ on the very easy terms of Gospel obedience, and thereby to have secured the heavenly kingdom. This being granted, who knows they will not do it? Things that are possible, may be done; and who can say, for certainty, that those things which are possible, will not be effected ? If it be an absolute certainty that any will finally fail of gaining the prize, it is also an absolute certainty that they have no possible opportunity for it: -- If there be an opportunity, and the prize be attainable by all, there is at least some room for hope; and were it the real Christian hope, it would be like an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast; but being founded in the creature, and not in God, it is wavering and doubtful.

On this system, it must be absurd to argue the certainty of the endless misery of any of the family of man, as the salvation of the whole is possible. God, out of love to his creatures, made it possible for them all to obtain salvation; indeed, it is his will that all should be saved from their sins; it is also the will of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit; it is the will of all holy beings in heaven, and of the saints on earth; prayers are daily offered up from the altar of sacrifice for its accomplishment. And if it be not done, the whole Godhead will be disappointed; mourning, instead of rejoicing, will be the employment of holy angels; and the saints will be stung with the keenest sensations of grief.

No one will dare to say he believes God can be disappointed in any of his purposes; therefore, those who believe in the system last examined must be dissatisfied with it, if their eyes should ever be opened to see its consequences.


Having examined those several systems of atonement, in as concise a method as was convenient, and having given my principal reasons for not adopting either, I now beg the attention of the reader to my second inquiry, viz. the necessity of atonement, and where satisfaction must be made.



* The actual wording of this key Bible passage is: "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."

Continue to chapter 5: Necessity of Atonement.
Table of Contents.

Paragraphing and some punctuation altered for clarity. See the Preface to the 2011 Web Edition. Thanks to Russell Allen for an early version of this chapter.